How To Identify “Trash Telescopes”

The Holiday Shopping Season is just around the corner! You may have been thinking about buying your first telescope, whether it’s for you or a sentimental gift for a loved one.

Sometimes, these telescopes will pop up into your social media feed, and they will try to pass off as legitimate. You may even see the price tag and think, “oh man, that’s a steal!”

Don’t fool yourself, and don’t be fooled! Here is how to identify a telescope that is NOT worth your hard earned money!

The Price Tag Is Too Good To Be True

One day, a patron looked at the moon through an 11″ SCT and asked me, “so how does this compare to a ‘normal’ telescope?” Baffled, I said, “Sir, this is a normal telescope!” He then continued, “no, I mean those scopes you can buy for a hundred dollars.” “You mean those cheap telescopes you can buy at department stores?” He smiled and said, “yes, those telescopes!” I then said, “I hate to tell you, but we call those ‘trash telescopes.'”

I have always said, “If your budget is $100 or less, then get a pair of binoculars instead.” I don’t recommend even thinking about a decent beginner scope until its above the $200 price range. Even then, don’t assume you’ve found a winner just yet!

The Details Listed by the Seller Are Vague
Look at this baby as an example.



Look at the product details on this one! Not once does it mention the aperture or the focal length, the two most important specs that make a telescope work! There is no way that is an equatorial mount, nor a scope with a “main mirror.”

If the details are clearly not correct, and if the seller seems really shady like a lot of off market social media sellers are, then it’s definitely a piece of junk! Good luck seeing anything out of it!

It Boasts About Magnification

This is another big thing to look for on the product details. Any telescope that boasts about how much magnification you’ll be using with the kit is fooling you into buying it!

Take this next listing for example:

trash telescope 2

This is a perfect example of such a product listing boasting about the magnification, but the actual specs are in fine print and you have to search hard for them.

Oh sure… you CAN get the scope to that magnification, but if you magnify higher than it can actually resolve, then you’re just seeing blurred mush. To even get to 675x, you’d use the included 4mm eyepiece, which the opening is smaller than your exit pupil, and a 3X Barlow which will make your FOV super narrow.

And good luck manually staying on anything at 675x, it’ll be nearly impossible!


This is another example that twice boasts about the magnification before providing the actual specs.

Plus, it’s being sold at Kohls… which leads to the next point.

If it’s Being Sold in a Department Store!

trash 2

Sure, even Celestron and Meade are guilty of putting out these telescopes to make a quick buck for the holidays. While they may show the objects that are easy to point at, the optical quality is always going to be a crap shoot.

Please, don’t buy these from department stores! More than likely, the workers at these stores have NO telescope knowledge, won’t know what the specs on the box mean, thus won’t be able to answer your questions.

It will always be better to search online and do your research on a telescope from a reputable website, and by all means, get the personalized information from experienced users – we WANT to help you! if you want my advice, I’m reachable through email or three social media links!

If you want your telescope to be a good investment, then a telescope only capable of showing a few objects is not going to be it.

The Materials Are Cheap!

All you have to do is see the details by looking at the preview images. You should be able to tell that the tube and even the optics are made of cheap plastic. Many times, the included mounts are so lightweight and flimsy, that you won’t be able to stabilize anything! Just say no to plastic and aluminum tripods!

A good telescope, even a small one, is capable of you moving the tube steady without you having to hold down the mount.

Bad telescopes also come with eyepieces where the “lenses” are actually plastic, and sometimes even a solar filter that can break and cause eye damage! The eyepiece focal lengths also pretty narrow compared to the eyepieces that come with a legitimate scope.

Essentially, you’re not purchasing a working telescope, you’re buying a glorified toy!

You Didn’t Do Any Research or Asked Someone Who Knows This Stuff!

Trust me, telescope users like us WANT to help people get good telescopes at a good price. Visit an observatory, or attend a star party hosted by an astronomy club. People like us WANT to give you free information and save you the hassle!

People who visit the observatory ask me all the time “so what kind of scopes do you recommend?” And because I know they’ll forget the information, I give them my card and tell them to contact me so I can follow up! Most never do. Maybe they found a good scope, maybe they ended up getting a bad one, or simply lost interest and gave up.

waiting meme

Either way, someone like me can’t help you if you don’t ask or follow up, and if you go ahead and get a POS only for you to be told later “it’s a trash telescope,” then that’s your fault!

Great first telescopes don’t need to be super fancy, include a motor drive for tracking, nor do they need any computer software. You can get good all around telescopes in the $200 price range, and they can be good investments in return. They can have equatorial mounts which enable you to track with Earth’s rotation, or they can be Dobsonian reflectors that are easy and ready to use straight out of the box.

Do many people end up getting the so called “trash scopes” before graduating to a better one? Sure. But most people who purchase these pieces of junk that collect dust after one or two uses end up giving it away for free, spider webs included!

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Everything I do for Orion Bear Astronomy is free, but a donation is always appreciated! The donations go towards equipment, website costs, and outreach events!


One thought on “How To Identify “Trash Telescopes”

  1. Excellent information and great timing. Ads for You know what will be out any day now. Get the best equipment for the most You can afford.. ratchet up as finances allow. If interest is lost; You still have a valuable asset worth reselling.
    Thank You for good tips Anthony.


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